When it comes to marketing Scotch, intrigue sells. A superior malt with a compelling story line sells better than one draped in medals. Consumers have become jaded to marketing superlatives such as oldest, rarest or most expensive. Most people would rather be intrigued than impressed. Tempting clients with some engaging insights into a particular whisky and the decision to purchase is a foregone conclusion.
It’s all tied-up with the sense of discovery, of which intrigue is an essential element. Sharing insider information with a whisky aficionado is an irresistible hook, instilling the person or customer with a sense of ownership in the brand that won’t soon be forgotten.
Offering your clientele a discriminating offering of blends and single malts requires that you market a balanced selection, one that best represents the varieties of styles of each Scotch-producing region.
First, a little background information. The term single malt Scotch is often misconstrued. It is a whisky, produced in Scotland, at a single distillery using only malted barley, and no other grain or fermentable material. Blended Scotches are comprised of various whiskies from an unspecified number of distilleries. The heart of any premium blended Scotch are single malt whiskies. For instance, Johnnie Walker Gold Label is made according to a 1920 recipe created for the company’s 100th anniversary. It contains fifteen different 18-years-old single malt whiskies.
This past year or so has featured the release of new and exciting blends and malts, each nudging the envelope and expanding the Scotch inventory. The following overview of the top single malts and blends available – and their many attributes – might help you in fleshing out your Scotch selection.
New Highland Releases
Located in the northern part of Scotland, the Highlands is the largest Scotch-producing region and the home to a majority of the country’s distilleries. The region’s peat-laced waters and cool, moisture-laded air is perfectly suited for making classic malts. The heartland of the region is the Speyside. Its malts are known for their sophistication, elegance and complexity, the most famous of which are The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich.
The Glenlivet is the bestselling range of single malt Scotch in the U.S. and it may well remain that way with the 2010 expansion of their Speyside distillery. Issued to commemorate the reopening of the facility, The Glenlivet Founders Reserve was created using the same techniques that would have been employed when the distillery first opened in 1824. The limited release, 21 year old malt is non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength.
Also new to the range is The Glenlivet Nàdurra, a single malt aged for 16 years in ex-bourbon American oak casks and bottled at cask strength (57.2% alcohol). The Glenlivet range also includes category leader The Glenlivet 12 Years Old, 18 Years Old, Archive (21 years old), and Cellar Collection vintages 1983, 1959 and 1967.
Glenfiddich remains the bestselling single malt Scotch whisky in the world. Its esteemed range took another giant leap forward with the release of Glenfiddich 40 Years Old Single Malt and Solera Reserve Single Malt, which is aged by a system modeled after Spanish Soleras. Three different types of wood are used in production-used bourbon barrels, sherry butts and new oak casks. The whiskies are then aged in Solera vats with the core age being a minimum of 15 years.
The Glenfiddich portfolio includes the 12 Years Old; Ancient Reserve 18 Years Old and Glenfiddich 30 years old.
The Speyside district of the Highlands is also the home of the Balvenie Distillery. The Balvenie range is a compilation of five artisan expressions. Their flagship is the Balvenie PortWood 21 Years Old Single Malt; a whisky double barreled, first in traditional oak and then 30 years old, oak port pipes. The wine influences every aspect of the whisky.
The Balvenie distillery has released a series of cask strength marvels of late that includes The Balvenie Caribbean Cask, a 14 years old malt finished in Caribbean rums barrels, The Balvenie Madeira Cask, a 17 years old malt finished in Madeira barrels, The Balvenie Sherry Cask, a 17 years old malt finished exclusively in Oloroso Sherry oak barrels and The Balvenie Vintage 1975 Cask.
After 180 years in the business, The Macallan well deserves its lofty reputation among aficionados. The distillery has the deepest whisky reserves in all of Scotland and a colossal range that includes 33 distinctive bottlings and vintages. Their famed sherry oak single malts are bottled at 10 years, 10 years at cask strength, 12 years, 18 years and 25 years, while the ultra-popular The Macallan Fine Oak series features bottlings at 10 years, 12 years, 15 years, 17 years and 18 years. The innovative Fine Oak whiskies are a decidedly lighter blend of malts, a result of introducing American oak whiskies to the mix.
A fixture in the Highlands since 1843, the Glenmorangie Distillery has always produced nothing but single malt whisky. The distillery markets bottlings of 10 years, 18 years and 25 years. Of equal stature is the distillery’s incomparable stable of extra matured malts. The most recently introduced of these 12 years old malts are Lasanta Extra Matured Sherry Cask, Nectar d’Or Extra Matured Sauternes Cask; and the Sonnalta PX, which spends 10 years in bourbon and 2 in Pedro Ximenez casks. The brand’s latest expression is Glenmorangie Finealta Private Edition, a recreation of a Glenmorangie recipe dating back to 1903..
Tucked away by the banks of the River Alness in the Northern Highlands, The Dalmore is one of the region’s best-kept secrets. The Dalmore 12 Years Old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky, a malt comprised of whiskies aged in American white oak and Oloroso sherry casks.
The award-winning Dalmore Gran Reserva Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky is aged 10 to 15 years in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks and American White Oak. The Dalmore 15 Years Old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky is a blend of malts matured entirely in sherry wood, specifically Matusalem, Apostoles and Amoroso butts from Jerez de la Frontera. The distillery’s crowning achievement is The Dalmore 1263 King Alexander III, an expression comprised of malts matured in 6 different types of oak.
The malts of Aberlour have made it a franchise in the Speyside since 1826. The distiller’s range includes a 10 years old, 12 years old, 16 years old and 18 years old, all of which are comprised of bourbon and sherry malts. Among the distillery’s many achievements is Aberlour a’bunadh Single Speyside Malt, a luxurious whisky bottled unfiltered, undiluted and at cask strength; our tasting sample was 59.6% alcohol by volume.
The vintage-dated Speyside single malts of The Glenrothes are highly sought after by collectors and aficionados alike. The first-vintage 1979-was released in 1994 for the centennial anniversary of the distillery. Over the years the distillery released 16 more vintage malts with The Glenrothes 1994 and 1998 currently on the market. Like their previous vintage malts, The Glenrothes ’94 and ’98 are slices of life never to be repeated.
The distillery also markets The Glenrothes Select Reserve Speyside Single Malt, a blend of malts matured in American oak and Spanish sherry casks. The ex-bourbon barrels lend lush vanilla and coconut character, while the sherry casks imbue the malt with spice and a resinous quality.
The Glenfarclas Distillery is among the last of the privately owned distilleries. It ages most its highly sought-after whiskies in Oloroso sherry casks. Their line of malt whiskies includes the Glenfarclas 17 years, 21 years, and the inimitable 40 Years Old. Most singular of the range is the Glenfarclas Cask 105, which the distillery has produced since 1952. Aged 10 years and bottled at 120-proof, it is the strongest single malt issued by any Scotch distillery.
The southernmost distillery in the Highlands, Glengoyne whiskies display many of the pleasing characteristics of Lowland malts. The distillery’s reliance on air-dried rather than peat smoke-dried malts contributes greatly to its gentle fruity style. The firm produces the large range of single malt Scotches, including a 10 years old and 17 years old bottling and the limited edition Glengoyne Scottish Oak is a malt aged in rare Scottish oak barrels and bottled at an impressive 107 proof.
Made at one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, the Glen Garioch (pronounced “Geery”) portfolio here includes two expressions. The Glen Garioch 12 Years Old Single Highland Malt is a blend of American and Oloroso sherry wood, while the Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve is a non-chill filtered malt bearing no age statement. Each is well imbued with the spice and heather honey for which the Glen Garioch is famous.
New Island Malts
There is no more memorable road on the voyage of discovery than the one leading to the adventurous malts of the Scottish islands.
One such franchise belongs to Highland Park from the island of Orkney, the northernmost distillery in the world. The microclimate of the isolated and wind-swept island is dominated by the North Sea and North Atlantic. Its U.S. portfolio includes 7 expressions of Single Orkney Malts -the standard bearer 12 years old, 15 Years Old, the limited edition Highland Park 18-year-old, and the 25 year-old Highland Park. The latter is an unfiltered, cask strength (96.2 proof) whisky made with several malts over 35 years in age. The distillery’s highly acclaimed Orcadian series now features 3 vintage bottlings-1964, 1968 and 1970.
The Isle of Jura is in the Inner Hebrides off the eastern coast of Scotland. For 300 years, the island’s lone distillery has produced whiskies using mountain water and lightly peated malt. Isle of Jura Superstition features a blend of peated whiskies and older, traditionally finished malts. The range now also includes a 21 Years Old Single Malt and Isle of Jura Prophecy, a 92-proof blend of old heavily peated malts finished in Oloroso sherry butts and bottled unfiltered in its natural state.
When it comes to adventurous malts, the Scottish island of Islay reigns supreme. The isle’s oldest distillery is Bowmore, which still crafts whiskies its own floor-dried malted barley peat-enriched water from the River Laggan. Their range here in the U.S. includes Bowmore 18 Years Old Islay Single Malt and the cask strength Bowmore 15 Years Old Darkest Sherry Malt bottled at. New to the portfolio is the Bowmore Vintage 1999, which is a 16 years old malt finished in wine barrels and bottled at cask strength.
The Laphroaig experience is most comparable to bungee jumping. It intimidates many, but those brave souls willing to take the plunge are rewarded with the ride of their life. Such is the excursion waiting for those fortunate enough to sample Laphroaig Quarter Cask Single Islay Malt It is first matured in ex-bourbon barrels and then transferred to quarter casks for finishing. This double maturation in a smaller barrel allows for greater contact with the wood.
The famed Laphroaig portfolio also includes a 10 Years Old Cask Strength, 15 Years Old and 30 Years Old. Each is an intriguing spirit deeply imbued with the flavor of the sea.
The Ardbeg distillery is one of the oldest and smallest distilleries in Scotland. Aged for 10 years in seasoned American oak casks and bottled at 92 proof, Ardbeg Single Islay has the distinction of being the most heavily peated single malt. New to the Ardbeg portfolio are the 10th Anniversary edition of Rollercoaster, which is bottled at cask strength (57.3% alcohol), the 2nd edition of Supernova 2010 (60.1% alcohol) and non-chill filtered Airigh Nam Beist Vintage 1990.
New Malts from Campbeltown and the Lowlands
Located on a peninsula near the island of Islay, Campbeltown was once considered Scotland’s whisky capital. Where once more than 30 distilleries flourished, Springbank and Glen Scotia are the last remaining entities.
Springbank is the oldest, family-owned distillery in Scotland. The principals are fiercely independent, insisting on making their whisky in the same manner as they have for a 150 years. The family is involved in every stage of production-from the cutting of peat to final bottling. The distillery’s range of handcrafted triple-distilled, lightly peated malts is awash with choices. Its core releases are 46% alcohol and include bottlings at 10 years old, 15 years old and 18 year old.
Among the distillery’s creative range of single malts are recent arrivals Springbank 11 Years Old Madeira Wood Finish Cask Strength (110.2% alcohol), Springbank 12 Years Old Cream Sherry Wood Finish Cask Strength (112.2% alcohol), Springbank 12 Years Old Fino Sherry Wood Finish Cask Strength (112.6% alcohol) and Springbank 12 Years Old Amontillado Sherry Wood Finish Cask Strength (110.2% alcohol).
The Springbank distillery also produces the heavily peated, double-distilled Longrow malts, a range that includes Longrow 7 Years Old Gaja Barolo Wood Finish, which is bottled at cask strength (55.8% alcohol) and the Longrow 10 Years Old (50% alcohol).
First introduced in 2005, Hazelburn Single Malts are the newest releases from the Springbank Distillery. The unpeated whiskies are triple-distilled, matured in Sherry oak and bottled at 46% alcohol. Hazelburn malts bottled in limited quantities in two expressions-at 8 years old and the recently released 12 Years Old.
Malts made in the Lowlands of Scotland are often overshadowed by those produced in the Highlands. It’s an unfortunate oversight as Lowland malts are soft, light and fruity, largely due to the region’s propensity for triple distilling.
The best-known distiller of the Lowland malts is Auchentoshan, whose range includes a 10-year-old (40% alcohol) and 21-year-old (86 proof). The most prestigious of the region’s whiskies is Auchentoshan Three Wood Lowland Single Malt, a distinctive triple-distilled malt finished in 3 different types of oak casks-used bourbon barrels, oloroso sherry butts and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.
The distillery has also released two expressions matured for 18 years. One is aged solely in American oak barrels (43% alcohol), while the second is matured in Oloroso Sherry casks and bottled at cask proof (55.8% alcohol).
THE BIG BLENDS
One of the great milestones in history of distillation was the advent of blending complementary spirits together to obtain something that’s more than the sum of its parts. Melding dozens of various whiskies into a unified, cohesive spirit is such a rarified skill that only a handful of individuals can lay claim to the title of master blender. When done with skill and intuition, the various elements meld together into something genuinely sensational-a spirit made better for every strand in its blend.
Sterling examples can be found throughout the often-overlooked sector of blended Scotch. By their nature, these whiskies are artistic endeavors, the combination of dozens of spirits varying in ages and compositions, all produced by a number of distilleries. These are certainly the best of times for devotees of exceptional whisky. The biggest names in blended Scotch have line extensions that will be hard to improve upon.
• Ballantine’s – Ballantine’s ranks as one of the world’s most famous and successful brands of blended Scotch. In fact, two bottles of Ballantine’s are sold somewhere on the planet every second. Prestigious Ballantine’s 30-Year Whisky is highly aromatic with a light silky body and a complex palate featuring sherry, honey and a hint of peat.
• Black Bull – This exclusive blend is comprised of 12 years old single malts and single grain whiskies from Duncan Taylor’s limited cask collections. The blend is 50% malts and 50% grain whiskies and is bottled at 50% alcohol. Black Bull is also available in a 30-year and 40-year expression.
• Chivas Regal Gold Signature – The special reserve blend is comprised of more than 40 whiskies, all of which were barrel-aged at least 18 years. The super-premium marque is aromatic and accessible.
• Chivas Regal Royal Salute – Introduced in 1891 by James Chivas, the Chivas Regal blend was an immediate international bestseller. Royal Salute was released in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The youngest whisky used in its blend is 21-years-old.
• Compass Box Whisky – Founded in 2000, Compass Box produces a full range of blended Scotches from richest grains to the peatiest of malts. Compass Box Hedonism is a 100% grain whisky aged between 12 and 23 years in American oak, while limited edition Hedonism Maximus is a blend of 42 years old Invergordon whisky and 29 years old Cameron Bridge whisky. The firm also produces Compass Box Peat Monster, a blend of super-peaty Islay single malts, a peated Speyside single malt and a malt matured in French oak from the northern Highlands.
• Dewar’s 12-Years Old Special Reserve – Dewar’s has long the bestselling Scotch whisky in America. Special Reserve is a blend of individually aged 12-year old single malt whiskies from the different regions of Scotland. At the core of its blend are the renowned malts of Dewar’s Highland distilleries, most notably Aberfeldy (Speyside), Lochnagar (Highlands), Benrinnes (Speyside), Pulteney (Highlands), Aultmore (Speyside), Royal Brackla (Highlands), Craigellachie (Speyside) and Glen Ord (Highlands). After blending, the whisky is further mature in oak barrels to allow the blend to “marry.”
• Johnnie Walker Blue Label – Considered the flagship of the Johnnie Walker line, Blue Label is blended around a core of Cardhu single malt whiskies, some having been aged in sherry oak for up to 60-years.
• Johnnie Walker Gold Label – This blend is made according to a 1920 recipe created for the company’s 100th anniversary. It contains fifteen different 18-year-old single malt whiskies. The brand is a relative bargain priced in the $80s.
• Johnnie Walker Green Label – A dramatic break from convention, Johnnie Walker’s latest release is an assemblage of exemplary single malts to create the signature house style. Its lush palate presents seemingly endless waves of satisfying Highland flavors and tantalizing hints of sea-imbued Island malts. The minimum age of the malts used in the blend is 15 years.
• Mitchell’s Glengyle Blend – This blend is comprised of whiskies from Mitchell’s Glengyle distillery, as well as Springbank and Longrow. The majority of the malt in the blend is Kilkerran, which is distillery’s inaugural whisky. Mitchell’s Glengyle Blend is a well-rounded dram from the nose through the finish; a fine example of a smooth Campbeltown malt.